Unmapping Islam in Eastern Europe: Periodization and Muslim Subjectivities in the Balkans

This article challenges the fixed spatial and temporal disconguities of the borders between East/West and Europe/Islam that contribute to the physical and discursive partition of Balkan Muslims from the larger Muslim world. It examines the works of twentieth century Islamic scholars and activists, particularly women and underprivileged minorities, such as Melika Salihbegović, Hidajeta Mirojević, Safija Šiljak, Sheikh Haxhi Qamili, Muhammad Nasir-ud-Din al-Albani, Vehbi Sulejman Gavoçi, and Abdul-Kader Aranauti, whose intellectual labor has traversed the East/West, Ottoman/post-Ottoman, and Communist/post-Communist discontiguities. Examining Muslim histories in Eastern Europe beyond the confines of these spatiotemporalites, opens up multiple perspectives on past and present political struggles of Muslims in Eastern Europe, allowing us to explore histories and subjectivities of Muslims who saw their lived experiences not in relation to Europe but as constitutive part of the Muslim world. Their perspectives and insistence on an Islamic way of life provide an alternative reading of the history of Muslims in the Balkans, not isolated by their immediate surroundings, but as members of a transnational struggle against colonialism throughout the twentieth century. Through an analysis of their work, this article contests research on Islam in Eastern Europe that, relying on post-ottoman and post-socialist forward-moving temporalities, suggest that following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and during the socialist period, Muslims in Eastern Europe were isolated from the rest of the Ummah and attached to European geotemporalities. The choice for personalities on the fringes of their own communities allows us to deconstruct anti-colonial and post-socialist nationalist narratives that have been dominated by privileged men.

Jeremy Walton

Times and Spaces of Islam across Turkey, the Balkans, and Southeast Europe

In his presentation, Jeremy Walton forges a panoramic perspective on Islam across the variegated geography of Turkey and southeast Europe. Rather than a direct focus on questions of Muslim politics or theology, he is concerned with the distinctive histories, temporalities, places and spatial practices that situate and saturate Islam across this geography. Five specific sites together constitute my kaleidoscopic purview. In Ankara, the author discusses a contentious project to create an integrated space of worship for Alevi and Sunni Muslims—a “mosque-cem house”— that has sparked anxieties of spatial and political assimilation on the part of many Alevi critics. In Istanbul, is visited the theme park Miniatürk in order to plumb the “miniaturized” image of Ottoman Islamic history that the park curates. Walton’s itinerary then takes him to Thessaloniki, where the abandoned, converted mosque of the dönme community—Muslim followers of the failed Jewish messiah Sabbatai Zevi—mutely enunciates the city’s repudiated Ottoman, Muslim, and Jewish pasts. From there, he proceeds to Rijeka in order to trace the ambivalence of a new, monumental mosque dedicated to the city’s Bosniak Muslim community—as the author argues, the mosque’s public visibility belies the ultimate marginality of Islam within the city and nation as a whole. Finally, Walton makes a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Bektashi saint Gül Baba in Budapest, where the predominantly Turkish commentary in a visitors’ log registers both nostalgia for faded Ottoman politico-religious glory and aspirations to a European future for Turkish Islam that integrates the lessons of the Ottoman past. Rather than a single, straightforward argument, his presentation unfolds across these multiple spaces and national contexts with the ambition to complicate both monolithic images of Islam and simplistic renderings of “public religion” generally.